# Are comments saying “just use magic” problematic?

Recently I have noticed a lot of questions which always receive pretty much the same comment. The questions usually take the form

What material/technology could deal with [x problem/feature] of this [magic/future technology]

They will then quite often quickly receive a comment saying:

You used magic in the question so just say the answer is magic.

To be clear the questions are usually perfectly good questions with well enough defined magic systems that they can (and often are) be answered very easily.

An example would be the first comment here which was posted by an experienced user on a new user's question.

The intention might have been good but are these types of question helpful or harmful to the site?

I would say harmful because they are potentially discouraging to new users and make us look like a site that can't be bothered to come up with proper answers.

• A reminder that our default requirements do not allow magic unless the author explicitly says so. Frankly, that would be a decent rebuttal, if all else fails. – HDE 226868 Jun 6 '17 at 16:26
• For a truly good question it would be best for the OP to write a sentence or paragraph where they specify in as much detail the amount and/or nature of the magic/soft science allowed in answers. This would make for more precise answers and discourage "just some magic" comments. Indeed, many new users are missing this and are discouraged by these comments. – Nahshon paz Jun 20 '17 at 11:29

We should not assume that a question that allows magic allows any magic and that problems can just be hand-waved away. The author of that question wrote:

Thank you for your input. However, the universe I'm building is contemporary by nature, and this super-speed is one of the very few fantastic elements. I don't think that introducing a paranormal element is an excuse to throw all realistic concerns and only use "super-"something to face any problem.

This is commendable. I'd like to see more of this "only as much magic as I need" approach, not less. As with any other type of question, if the answer is "within the constraints you've set in your question, you can't do that" -- then put that in an answer (with an explanation/support).

Over on The Workplace we have a problem with comments and answers that say "just quit your job". "Just hand-wave your magic" feels like the Worldbuilding equivalent of that. Yes, sometimes you do need to quit your job or handwave your magic, but that's for the asker to decide. We should accept the parameters of the question and go from there. It's ok to comment saying that that might be really hard -- your magic system or physics or biology or aerodynamics or whatever is inconsistent with that -- especially if you can do it early when the question can be edited to adjust. But once the OP has made it clear what his goal is, we shouldn't be telling him to get a different goal.

• I would agree for the most part although I would suggest that on occasion it is ok to tell the OP that the goal is not feasible. Basically, and answer in this situation would be, "Here's as close as I can get, because x and y don't fit together, you may be better off with a and b because f. – James Jun 6 '17 at 16:20
• How I interpret such comments and what I'm attempting to say when I make them myself, is "Your world already allows for a magical explanation for this. Are you sure you don't want to conserve your worldbuilding and use an existing explanation instead?" It's pure laziness on my part that has condensed that down to "Just use the magic you've already implied exists." – sphennings Jun 6 '17 at 16:27
• @sphennings maybe it matters how you say it? I think a key part of your expanded version is that you ask the OP a question instead of saying "just do X". The former comes across a lot better to me, anyway; it feels more helpful and collaborative, which I'm sure is your intent. – Monica Cellio Jun 6 '17 at 18:23
• @James See also When is “that's not possible” an appropriate answer? The consensus there is pretty clear: "what you want simply is not possible" can be a valid answer. Add some explanation about what OP can get within their constraints, and you have a pretty decent chance of having not only a decent answer, but a thoroughly upvoted great answer that can help many. Heck, my answer to one of the questions mentioned there is accepted and voted +30/-1 at the moment, and once you look past the science, about all it says is "no can do". – a CVn Jun 6 '17 at 20:46
• @MichaelKjörling Absolutely agree with you on that one. Like the accepted answer in your link says, explain why and provide options (for example get rid of restriction x and it can work. – James Jun 6 '17 at 21:23
• @James It's somewhat beside the point, but I'm not sure which accepted answer you are referring to; I have very specifically not accepted any answer on several of my [discussion] meta questions, so as to not effectively super-upvote one at the expense of the community's ability to indicate agreement. – a CVn Jun 7 '17 at 6:20
• @MichaelKjörling Whoops, should have said, highest voted answer. – James Jun 7 '17 at 13:59

I think it's important to remember that these are comments, not answers. If someone was answering with "just use magic" that could be a problem. However, as comments they open a dialogue with the OP. It's possible the OP didn't think about just using more magic, or that they want a "use magic" answer but such questions/answers are usually discouraged because out how open-ended they are. I think in an ideal setting, these comments would give the OP an opportunity to improve their question, so they can get better answers that more closely apply to their world.

• I think it's more productive if phrased as "have you considered X?" instead of "do X". – Monica Cellio Jun 6 '17 at 18:24
• What Monica said. Suggesting alternatives is valid, particularly if solutions cannot be offered within the constraints laid out in the question, but especially if you (the commenter) want to engage in a dialogue with the OP, it's far better to pose those as questions than as statements. – a CVn Jun 6 '17 at 20:50

Sometimes there isn't a proper answer. If I'm asking about my magically fast (no strict speed limit) super heroes, I'm already supposing a very high level of $\{\text{magic, handwaving, superscience, suspension of disbelief, ...}\}$ in my setting. Any explanation more than "We worked out the bugs during development" is so divorced from how physics actually works to be indistinguishable from magic.

Normally when people are saying "Just use magic" they are saying "it is detrimental to the believably of your world to attempt to shoehorn in an explanation of this phenomena". Saying this as a comment is a way to suggest that this is a question that while acceptable for worldbuilding, and not worthy of downvotes, is still wrongly asked.

• Some questions can't be answered with real physics and in that case an answer saying why it can't be given an answer. In the case in my question it could be answered with our physics. – Bellerophon Jun 6 '17 at 15:29
• @Bellerophon Is it? There are materials that are resistant to heat, there are materials that don't deteriorate when rubbed against themselves, there are materials that are super flexible, and there are materials that have high enough r values to be used as heat shielding. There isn't a way to fit that all into a suit that will protect you from running arbitrarily fast. – sphennings Jun 6 '17 at 16:12
• The question asked for what material could allow the runner as much speed as possible and recieved two answers which I assume are relatively correct. – Bellerophon Jun 6 '17 at 16:28

By example, last two times I posted a comment like that it was:

Why "with a magic spell" wouldn't be an answer? And how isn't this story based?

There is seemingly all-powerful wizard who can do almost anything, and no constrains for his magic in the question. He can put a lot of spells that will last for ages. And so on. This comment was what it was - request for clarifications, constrains etc.

Idea that any plant could make them fatally ill is medically impossible, so tagging this with medicine makes very little sense to me. You already have food magic in this world, you can just add more of this magic to make healing mice, or something.

This question has magical (aka scientifically impossible) premise, but it does not acknowledge the fact. My comment was meant to point that out and to show that, if premise will stay unchanged, there is no need or possibility for an answer.

I believe that comments are there to point out flaws in the question and request clarifications. And that's what I'm trying to do when I'm commenting that it seems that magic would do.

To answer the OP, they are problematic because they are ambiguous. They may be the correct and obvious answer, that a magical explanation won't harm the story, but they may also be snark.

They could mean "the magic you have described already contains the solution.", in which case more detail is warranted than just the comment.

Or they might mean "I've already dropped all suspension of disbelief just reading your setup -- this mess can't get any worse!", In which case the commenter should have refrained altogether.

• There's a third option "I'm willing to buy into your premise! Please don't jeopardize that by attempting to explain what I'll accept as is." I'm more willing to accept something that is cool yet physically impossible if they don't then try to explain why it's actually possible. – sphennings Jun 6 '17 at 17:39